I’ve been a lover of words since I can remember, especially when my father bought me my first dictionary when I was 10 years old. (Being 10 and randomly finding the definition for decade one day made things even sweeter.) Once in a while, I’ll tell you some memorable stories about my ongoing love affair with words.

Aplomb (noun) – complete and confident composure or self-assurance.

I was 17 years old. He sat behind me in our English class. Every day, while our teacher (who shared the same name with the leading actress from The Excorcist, a fact we discussed almost every day in light of her very uncheerful demeanor) lectured in front of the classroom, I felt tiny stings coming from the back of my head. You see, I began to gray when I was about 14 years old, an inheritance from my father, who began to gray when he was 20. Every day, he would gently pull out some of my gray hair. I rarely reacted to this tender assault to my scalp, being that 1) I wanted them out of there, as well, and didn’t fully believe that when one came out, 100 replaced it; 2) I kind of liked the feeling, because I’m a weirdo; and 3) this had been happening since I was 14 years old, random kids behind me in class pulling out my gray hair.

Eventually, we began to have intriguing conversations in class when our crazy teacher allowed us to discuss a novel or something else we were reading. With his bright blue eyes gleaming, he asked if I felt him pulling my hair. I said yes. You never react, he said. No need, I replied, smiling. A few weeks later, he said the following: “You have such aplomb. I love that about you.” I remember replying, I’m a ploom? Aplomb, he repeated, laughing. “You’re so poised. You never react.”

Later, I looked up the word in the dictionary and smiled at his mispronunciation (I’m really a plum, not a ploom), and at the compliment itself. If only he knew the complete lack of self-assurance I felt most of the time, the teenaged/puberty/girl storm raging inside of me. Nevertheless, it gave me a warm feeling to know that he thought I had poise. We were already becoming fast friends–I loved his quirky personality, his brilliant mind, and those eyes–but that word seemed to make him even cooler.

Alas, people drift apart after high school. Last I heard, he’s an attorney living on the West Coast. If we saw each other now, I’d ask whether those court cases are being argued with aplomb. And then I’d gently yank any gray hairs I find on his big head.

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